Vol 3: 7 A Church in Which the Spirit Dwells: Organizing Around the Moving of the Holy Spirit

I have had a number of conversations with church planters or others involved in revitalizing their congregations about how they plan to restructure the organizing of their churches to facilitate increased ministry effectiveness. In fact, I remember one such conversation in which my friend pointed to a 30-step plan his denomination had given to him to follow in planting and organizing a church, that I facetiously expressed, “all you need to do is add people, and you’ll have a church.” To which, missing my tongue-in-cheek comment replied, “Yes, that’s right!”

This is a further reflection on Craig Van Gelder’s and Dwight J. Zscheile’s The Missional Church in Perspective: Mapping Trends and Shaping the Conversation. To reiterate, in this book, Van Gelder and Zscheile explore how the missional conversation has unfolded since the book Missional Church was published in 1998.

On p. 159, the authors express “it is vital to keep at the forefront of our imaginations the creative power of the Spirit in shaping church organizations. . . . The creativity of the Spirit animates and renews forms of church organization as part of God’s dynamic and ongoing creation.”

I agree with this statement, though I have discovered it is not easy to let go of our inclination to control outcomes or directions in seeking to lead the churches we are called to serve as pastors.

On the Church Board of my congregation, we have talked about how ministry is developed by the leading of the Spirit. In the early days of this dialogue – over a year ago, it was often expressed as to how chaotic this seems to be – “how can we control or give shape to what we need to be or do if we are led by the Spirit?” Being open to the leading of the Spirit seems like chaos to us because we want to shape the way our churches are organized and how we engage in ministry and in what kind of ministry we are to engage.

But after a year or so of growing in learning to be open to the leading of the Spirit in our daily lives, in the life of the church, in seeing the kind of ministry involvements the Spirit has opened up, we as a community are discovering that walking and depending on the Spirit is a rhythm that relieves us of much anxiety in organizing ministry and the church. The Spirit seems to know how to lead us as a community of Christ.

We are learning to express this in a number of ways:

  1. We have the attitude in our community that whoever comes into our community – to join us in worship, or to participate in some other way, in an ongoing basis, they are ones whom the Spirit of God is bringing into our midst. That means whoever comes, changes the structure and personality of the community. Likewise, as people leave – move to other towns, go off to school, etc, our personality and structure changes as well. As we receive these whom the Spirit brings into our midst, we realize that they bring new questions, new ways of seeing things, new ways of doing things – which we are learning to be open to – because we believe this to be a moving of the Spirit in our midst.

  2. In receiving those whom the Spirit brings into our midst, we realize that they are not just brought into our community to back-fill our ministry openings, as if the gifts they bring may somehow be utilized in our established ministries. Rather, in recognizing their being present with us as the moving of the Spirit, we receive these persons as gifts of the Spirit – not that they only have gifts, but that they themselves are gifts of the Spirit to the community – to shape our life, to shape our ministry, to shape our witness, to shape our organization, to shape our noticing and participating in what God is doing through God’s redemptive mission in the world.

  3. In this being open to people as gifts the Spirit is bringing into our midst, we find ourselves learning to be more open to what the Spirit desires to do in each of our lives – as individuals and as a community. We are talking about old issues and new issues in new ways that had never before. These gifts of the Spirit give us fresh eyes to look at ourselves, our practices and invite us into exploring new practices that lead us to grow deeper in Christ.

  4. We are coming to recognize that what is going on in our midst cannot be readily depicted on an organizational chart, because what is going on is more like a rhythmic dance in which the Spirit is teaching us how to dance in partnership with God as God is active in the world bringing life and wholeness in the reconciling of humanity and the re-creation of the world. Organizational charts or dance instructions are helpful as we begin to learn to dance, but once we catch the rhythm of the dance we are invited into by God, we learn new steps, new moves that have more to do with the Spirit than a mere instruction or organizational manual. Essentially, what we are discovering is learning how to trust the Spirit to lead us as we participate with God in dancing with God in God’s mission.

I am sure we will be learning more as we grow in being open to the Spirit of God, and I am looking forward to such discoveries – but I hope these few insights can serve as a catalyst for your community exploring being involved in ministry and organizing yourselves around the moving of God’s Spirit.

  1. Linda Wiens says:

    I think this article is beautifully written, and I have indeed experienced our church community in this way over the last year or so.

    I think this article should be submitted to and printed by The Mennonite. For that purpose, you might consider changing one expression: “rhythmic dance” in line 2 of point 4. That expression suggests a set pattern, maybe even stilted. I think what you mean is a “dance of varying rhythms”.

    I feel confident that if we continue as the article describes we will increasingly develop eyes to see, ears to hear and hands to do where and what the Spirit leads. And it won’t really matter whether the congregation grows, but it probably will.

  2. Paul Scott says:

    Sheep have always needed a shepherd to look to. Without a guide they stray and may die for lack of food and water. Without the protection of the rod and staff, many will find themselves dancing with lions.

    • Roland says:

      I agree, but too often as human pastors we forget that we are at most undershepherds to Jesus who is indeed the shepherd. In fact it is the Spirit of God who truly is the one who leads a community – therefore requiring us to discern the moving and gifting of the Spirit in our midst. If pastors do not take their cues from the Spirit in an attitude of servantship – then we are dancing with lions.

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